Jason Wilber (from the album Time Traveler available from WilberTone Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Jason Wilber stood on stage next to John Prine for nearly a quarter century as his guitar player and musical director. Wilber likely learned a lesson and then some from that tenure, and he showcases a similar songwriting ability on his latest release Time Traveler, where acoustic observations and a study of humanity live on the next line to lyrical ambiguity. The Time Traveler title track opener has an anthemic vibe, Jason Wilber confident in his delivery and yearning to move. Alone with his guitar and singing ‘my one wish is only to be somewhere else in the end’, it is a song made for shouting along to the hook, ‘I’m a time traveler’.
“The Disappearance of Bigfoot” sings of the female bigfoot that ‘leaves no dents, just a few footprints’ trying to ward off the harm’ that little foot (humans) inflict, and “Living in Space” speaks on the human treatment of earth, how we ‘screwed it up, took it all for granted like a spoiled kid’. One a mythical tale, the other a straight shot of the truth, they work together to lay out some environmental reality. “Good Luck” finds Jason Wilber extending well-wishes to farmers, servicemen, lovers and more, “On Holidays” is a sad, vivid and detailed song of escape, and the akcloser “All I’ve Got Left is Time,” throws out the reality that time is all we’ve got over a skip-down the street, carefree melody. Time Traveler is a record of sparse instrumentation. A lonely fiddle plays out here and there, with the bulk of the record driven by Wilber’s quiet vocals and plucked guitar. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Caitlin Cannon (from the album The TrashCannon Album available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Caitlin Cannon, who splits time between Southwest Colorado and Nashville, Tennessee, remains one of the gems of the small but fertile music scene of Durango, CO, where Cow-Punkers rub elbows with Bluegrass rippers. Her latest release, The TrashCannon Album, is an irreverent, offbeat and funny collection of weepy ballads, sassy honky-tonkers and fringe Indie Pop, with Caitlin Cannon being both the tough as nails barroom band leader and sentimental pop siren. “Going for the Bronze”, with its background singers doing cheerleading vocals, and “Toolbag”, with its sexual undertones via lyrical wordplay, prove that Caitlin Cannon has as much of a smart sense of humor as she does an ability to pen a steady rocker.
“Drink Enough”, with a marriage of R&B and twang, the dirty groove of “Mama’s a Hairdresser”, the irreverence of “My Man”, and the soft and sentimental tearjerker “Cannonball”, lend to The TrashCannon Album’s broad appeal; she’s written something for everyone. Lines like ‘too many pageants, not enough crowns’ from “Better Job” hint at Cannon’s ability to nail personal feelings and picturesque situations in a few words, an ability proven further in “Barbers and Bartenders”, a detailed homage to a sometimes unofficial therapist delivered in a ballad dripping with pedal steel. The TrashCannon Album is a quirky and weird record yet never a novelty. Humor is one of her aces as Caitlin Cannon universally pokes fun at everyone, including herself. The other card she holds is her slick band that throws out twang, Country noir, and a rocking groove, providing the perfect backing for the oddball characters that live in her experimental musical universe. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Jarrod Dickenson (from the album Ready the Horses available on Hooked Records) (by Brian Rock)
Texas troubadour, Jarrod Dickenson, unleashes some serious, soulful, Americana horsepower on his latest release, Ready the Horses. With a backing band that sounds like it cut its teeth in mid-sixties Memphis and early seventies Nashville, the music shifts effortlessly from Soul to Folk to Country. Jarrod Dickenson’s soulful, yearning voice is the thread that ties the varying styles together. Part Drew Holcomb and part Darrell Scott, he sings with an understated earnestness that flows like the calm surface of a deep river concealing strong undercurrents. “Faint of Heart” kicks off the album with a lone Gospel tinged, Hammond organ chord as Dickenson moans ‘you’ve got to be strong, ‘cause it’s bound to go wrong. Hear me when I say, this ain’t for the faint of heart’. As bass, drums and guitar kick in, he goes on to list and lament the burdens of life’s duties and obligations. The song plays like a cautionary Gospel song, warning sinners to change their ways. But instead of offering a brighter path, Jarrod Dickenson just taunts that ‘life, it will knock you down, have its way with you. You can kick, scream try anything, but there ain’t nothing you can do’. He forces the listener to ask, if life is nothing but struggle, what’s the point?
The answer to that question is, of course, love. And Jarrod Dickenson spends most of the remainder of the album contemplating love in all its stages and forms. He shares the bittersweet joy of embracing another for just a single dance in the Blue-Eyed Soul of “Nothing More.” He sings Folk Blues to express the regret of love lost in “California”. “In the Meantime,” is a soulful meditation on that period between casual and serious relationship. Then Dickenson goes full Otis Redding on the powerful, “Take It from Me”. Punctuated by a horn section worthy of the Memphis Horns, Dickenson sings, ‘honey put down those dishes. Oh, and put down that vase. We sent enough things flying through the air. There’s just no need for those to break. So, come and sit down beside me. We’ll talk this thing through. Come the morning we’ll both feel much better if we do’. Dripping with emotion, Jarrod Dickenson soulfully captures the tension of fighting against the person you’re fighting to keep with perfection. The muted steel guitar Country of “I Won’t Quit” testifies to love’s power to endure even the hard times, even when they’re self-induced. The reward for all the ups and downs and missteps along the way is touchingly captured in the duet ballad, “Your Heart”. Trading vocals with his wife, Dickenson sings ‘I will see you through the ages. I will love you till the end you’ll see. And when it’s time for me to take my bow, there’ll be no doubt, your heart it belonged just to me’. Rounding out the album is the campfire Country of “A Cowboy,” the swampy, Blues of “Gold Rush,” and the faithful cover of Seth Walker’s joyful barrelhouse Blues number, “Way Past Midnight”. The latter is a jubilant celebration of life. It stands in stark contrast to the album’s opener. Jarrod Dickenson seems to be saying that despite life’s drudgery, a little love can make it all worthwhile – but, Ready The Horses, just in case you have to face those rough patches in between. (by Brian Rock)
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Reckless Kelly (from the albums American Jackpot / American Girls available on No Big Deal Records)
The reason behind two simultaneous album releases from Reckless Kelly, American Jackpot and American Girls can be traced back to frontman/songwriter Willy Braun’s decision to produce the (then) upcoming album. As a first-time producer for the band, extra time was booked for flexibility, Reckless Kelly heading into the studio with Willy knowing ‘I wanted to produce this one by myself, just to try that out, and I made sure to book plenty of studio time to get it done right. We ended up moving along really fast, so I pulled out a few more songs and figured we’d end up using them down the road. Before we knew it, we had enough material for two really good records’. Aside from doing a fine job on album production, Willy Braun is a wise man. There are no fillers walking the halls of American Jackpot / American Girls, Reckless Kelly hitting each track out of the park, much like baseball hero Jackie Robinson, who the band honor with “42”, the tune a co-write with Willy and dad, Muzzie Braun.
Doing the math, when Reckless Kelly add American Jackpot and American Girls together they get an American opus, the songs a roadtrip on highways heading north, south, east, and west. Home is calling, Reckless Kelly bidding “Goodbye Colorado” as the tour bus heads back to Idaho (and Austin), dialing in a Tex-Mex border radio for a little Sir Doulgas mojo in “Lost Inside the Groove” and shouting out to the home team in the American Girls title track. The words of Willy Braun are fine-tuned, stories backed by Country Rock’n’Roll rhythms, one-liners in a narrative for the verses with choruses that stick like late-night decisions. A piano pounds rock’n’roll glory into the beat of “Don’t Give Up on Love” as dreamy steel guitar comforts the heart breaking in “Lonesome on My Own”. Reckless Kelly order one more round of promises to toast “Another New Year’s Day”, use a Celtic melody to warm the loneliness of “No Dancing in Bristol”, and support Idaho memories with a potent backbeat for “I Only See You with My Eyes Closed”. A satchel full of stories travel the roads of the U.S.A. with the native sons gazing out the windows offering observations when “The Company of Kings” spits, snarls, and struts across the album, following the lead of American Jackpot opener where Reckless Kelly provide a true-to-life history lesson as they singalong with consumerism with “North American Jackpot”.
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Jaime Wyatt (from the album Neon Cross available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Jaime Wyatt’s latest, Neon Cross, finds the Country singer laying out a record that has a little more polish while retaining grit and groove. Jaime Wyatt is a honky-tonk gal and while the Shooter Jennings-produced Neon Cross has plenty of twang, she also tosses in some ballads along with some Alt Country, all over some hard-won honesty and Rock’n’Roll rhythms. Jaime Wyatt comes out of the gate slowly, opening Neon Cross with the piano ballad “Sweet Mess”, followed by the driving title track.
Jaime Wyatt croons ‘if I ain’t good at anything I do, well I guess I don’t need to do anything at all’ on Two-Stepper “L I V I N” while “Make Something Outta Me” and “Goodbye Queen” have a Country Rock charge with the former heavy on the Rock. Jaime Wyatt pulls things back with the cut “Just A Woman” which features Jessi Colter, and “Mercy”. “Rattlesnake Girl” kicks off with a Surf Rock charge before giving way to a bar-room bounce while “Hurt So Bad” is timeless Outlaw Country, Neon Cross closing with the emotionally tough-skin of “Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain”. Jaime Wyatt is a commanding front-woman. Unafraid to lay it all out, Neon Cross is equally tough as nails record loaded with honesty. It is comfortable in the Country and Rock world, a honky-tonk record that dabbles around Rock, and a Rock record that pokes at twang. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Mammals (from the album Nonet available on ) (by Bryant Liggett)
You can feel the softness of The Mammals. Like a clean comforter and a big fluffy pillow, their sound closes in around you, exuding warmth and holding on tight, daring you to find a way to split from its embrace. The Mammals latest release in Nonet is chock full of fair melodies, rich with texture, that push the boundaries of the Folk with plush instrumentation.
“Coming Down Off Summer” opens Nonet, where harmonies and pedal steel guitar set a lushly lazy tone. “Radio Signal” picks up the tempo by a slight notch, whispered vocals detailing a soul searching, claiming ‘I roll and I roll, down the back roads of my soul, lookin’ for light like a radio signal’. With a line like ‘the whole world is wide open’, the cut “If You Could Hear Me Now” is a perfect early morning song of promise, “California” a nod to the Golden State that exudes a sunny beach, Laurel Canyon vibe and “You Can Come to My House” is a wonderful invite into a slacker crash pad where ‘you can pick some records out, coffees in the cupboard, whiskey on the shelf’. The Mammal’s sleeper instrument is the pedal steel, its use on Nonet adding an air of ambience and atmosphere to the entire vibe of the record. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Steve Earle and The Dukes (from the albums Ghosts of West Virginia available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Steve Earle keeps America’s best interest at heart, whether the country likes it or not. Championing topics such as strip mining, greed and capitalism, the death penalty, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, Steve Earle the singer/songwriter, the activist and occasional actor, will spin a yarn, calling it like he sees it and feels it. His songs are a vehicle to illuminate and educate, the latest lesson from Steve Earle and the Dukes, Ghosts of West Virginia finds the aged, gruffer voiced Earle singing mining songs, in particular focusing on the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 men. Acapella gospel opens the record with “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” followed by fringe Bluegrass that hears Steve Earle singing on red-state staples of “Union, God and Country”.
Steve Earle and the Dukes throw out reminders that mining is a dangerous and unfair profession with “The Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” and “Black Lung”, while The Dukes’ Eleanor Whitmore lends tender vocals to the song, detailing the loved ones waiting for their miner-men to come back home with “If I Could See Your Face Again” showing sometimes does not happen. “It’s About Blood” is a tough cut where Earle spits ‘Goddamned right I’m emotional’ as he speaks for the miners, ultimately name dropping all 29 men that lost their lives in the aforementioned explosion. Steve Earle is an important voice for the voiceless, his rough-around the edges ballads and gritty, click-clack rhythmed Roots Rock exposing some worthy questions addressed tp dangerous industry and an tragic accident that Americans should acknowledge and remember. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Get Right Band (from the album Itchy Soul available on Head Heart and Hips Music)
The skins of the songs collected on Itchy Soul change in a rapid blur as The Get Right Band focus on their sound, pounding, hammering, pummeling percussion into a beat. The course of the rhythm is a flash flood racing across “Future Blood”, the drumming a jackhammer into a melody spitting out notes to match the lyrical flow as The Get Right Band lay out a syncopated beat, pondering the meaning of life as we know it in “Fire with Rain. Itchy Soul churns a revolving rhythm on its title track as it gently plucks wobbly notes for “Love is Contagious”, walks on a sluggish dream groove through “No Sound”, and high steps drumbeats when The Dirty Truckers promise ‘this is my last pissed off song’ in the superman tale of “Kryptonite”.
Honoring the tradition of here for the funk of it, The Get Right Band trip lightly over the psychedelia-soaked dreamscape groove of “Get So High”, pay attention to the demanding growl of the guitar/bass combo in “Give Me Rain”, and glide over the Blues-drunk beat for “However Broken It Is”. Itchy Souldials in a staccato rhythm for “Nothin’ on the FM”, wondering why it gets treated so bad on the spit out chords of opening cut “Wired” as The Get Right Band balance the attack with the peaceful kiss-off bite that drifts towards an exit on closing cut “Can’t Stand”.
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The Dirty Truckers (from the album Second Dose available on Rum Bar Records)
There are true believers in the world. Men and women who play the same chord that slapped them awake on first contact, each note sounding like it was meant to bounce off garage walls. The Dirty Truckers are the torchbearers as they hammer out the joy of that initial moment with drums, bass, and guitar turned up to 11 on their recent release, Second Dose. Part gang tag, part singalong chorus, The Dirty Truckers pound out an anthem to get them to the show shouting ‘no one fucks with us tonight’ from “Hotel Highway View”. The tracks of Second Dose clock in at roughly three minutes, each second featuring a melody that snarl, lyrics that shout right in your face as the spit flies. Second Dose presents “Little Mine” as its firsts shot, the opening cut on the album setting a standard with a delivery that will leave a mark, possibly even a scar.
The guitar scream is the first clue for “Feedback” when The Dirty Truckers yell above the band on stage to offer some advice while they fact check the girl in “Ragin’ Eyes”. Bringing back local band glory from Boston circa 1980, The Dirty Truckers hammer out “Help You Ann” from The Lyres. Second Dosecalms the rhythm to a slow burn across “Sixteen Blue”, the story and groove stretching out the track time to over five minutes. Proud of the pounding they give to the beat, The Dirty Truckers wear the crown of true believers, racing across Second Dose like they stole it, street-wise punks providing two-minute sound bites of personal opinion. Looking to heal a relationship, the boys hold out an olive branch with “Back to Back” as they poke, prod, and push just a little in “Arm’s Length” while The Dirty Truckers offer rock wisdom on “Not Missing a Thing” to warn of the coming dawn.
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Pharis and Jason Romero (from the album Bet on Love available on Lula Records)
On their recent album release, Bet on Love, Pharis and Jason Romero offer a musical balm for our world circa today. The timing and topics matched-up, with Pharis and Jason Romero doling out audio comfort food in the form of song as Bet on Love focuses on community through the lens of home and family. Equally hitting the mark for synchronicity was the call-out for fans to submit video footage to back “Roll on My Friend”. Asking for contributors fit, and fulfilled, the need for at-home projects, to be creative during lockdown, and a good distraction. Selecting the winner was tough, and of the process Pharis shared ‘we were blown away. Choosing a winning video was nearly impossible. But in the end, we were drawn again and again to a journey of a family canoeing up to northern Canada in the 1960’s, following their adventure in a way that was engaging, beautiful, and perfectly reminiscent of the spirit of the song’.
The choice of a video winner runs along the same lines as Bet on Love. The stories show how we as humans share a personal love for simple smiles. Pharis and Jason Romero sing of our common ground in “We All Fall” while the pair cherish their relationship with “New Day”, bend the picking with a bit of Blues in the guitar strings for “Right in the Garden”, and join in harmony for the seaman’s story of “Old Chatelaine”. Recorded in the banjo shop where the master craftsmen work as world renowned instrument builders, the intimacy of the recording combined with the deeply personal meanings. Bet on Love reflects the land and lifestyle of the husband and wife team. Slow strums turn the wheel of the title track when Pharis and Jason Romero open their hearts to share what has worked for them as Bet on Love picks up the pace as it trails the journey of a happy man through “A Bit Old School”, quiets for lonely in “World Stops Turning”, and hears the highway call in “Hometown Blues”.
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